This week’s House Of The Dragon is undone by a slow first half

The pace of “House of the Dragon” is strange. It goes from a breakneck pace that barely gives us time to learn the names of the characters before they die to a slow, plodding pace.

Maybe that’s what happens when you take one section of a fake history book instead of a series of character-driven novels, like Game of Thrones did. In both ways, the show’s writers tend to leave some characters’ motivations unclear while digging deeply into others.

“Driftmark” moves slowly, which is a nice change from last week’s episode, which picked up right where it left off after a 10-year time jump. However, it’s not all that interesting. The action takes place over two days and one very eventful night on the island’s namesake, where all the powerful people have gathered to remember one of their own who has died.

After a hard birth last week, Laena Velaryon killed herself with dragon fire. The show doesn’t tell us much about why she did this, so it’s up to the viewers to figure out why she did it.

In any case, we’re at High Tide, Laena’s ancestral home, where her uncle Raymond (Wil Johnson) is giving her body to the sea, which the Velaryons love. Almost everyone we’ve met on the show is here, each with their own grievances: Viserys, Alicent, and their children; Rhaenyra, Lenor, and their children; Daemon and his children, who just lost their mother; and Corlys and Rhaenys, who just lost their only child.

Then there are the people who help the royal family, like Alicent’s dad, Otto Hightower, who is back as Hand of the King after Lord Lyonel Strong and his son Harwin died in a “strange” fire at Harrenhal. Ser Criston Cole, Alicent’s favorite kingguard, is also here, as is Larys Strong, the second son of the Strong family who planned the fire. Once, the queen thought she was just a pawn in someone else’s game, but now she has a lot of people on her side.

No one is happy to see each other, just like at a modern funeral reception, and everyone is acting badly. Ser Laenor and Prince Aegon have both been smashed. Ser Laenor is drunk because he just lost his sister, and Prince Aegon is drunk because he’s a scumbag teenager. Viserys tries again to make peace with Daemon, but his brother says that Pentos is now his home.

Rhaenyra sends Jacaerys and Lucerys to be nice to their uncle and cousins, who are sad because their aunt died. Luke’s uncle, Lord Corlys, tells him that one day he will be king of High Tide, but Luke isn’t interested. “Everyone is dead,” he says, “if I’m the Lord of Driftmark.” The kids are so sad.

This whole episode is a lesson in what happens when you bring up kids in a palace where there are plots, fights, and jealousies over small things. Both Jace and Aegon are being trained by their mothers to be kings in the future. Jace is giving in to the stress, especially now that he knows the truth about his parents.

Alicent’s constant assurances that Aegon is destined for greatness have made him a spoiled brat and a bully. Almond, on the other hand, is the worst kind of second son. His older brother’s cruelty is half-hearted and casual, but Aemond’s has teeth, and by the end of the episode, he’ll have gained the power to do some serious damage.

All day long, the boy who dreams of dragons has heard one. It’s Vhagar, the horse of the late Laena, who was forced to burn her mother, letting out a strange sound that can be heard all over the sea.

Later that night, when it gets dark, Aemond follows the dragon until he finds him sleeping in the sand dunes. Vhagar is the oldest and biggest dragon in the Seven Kingdoms. He is also a living reminder of how Aegon the Conqueror is said to have taken over Westeros.

Director Miguel Sapochnik shows how big this legendary beast is by showing him from Aemond’s point of view. He is so big that when the young prince wakes him up, the frame can only fit his head and neck.

Aemond almost gets dracarysed for being so bold, but he is a Targaryen through and through, so Vhagar follows the boy’s orders. Aemond climbs up on Vhagar’s saddle and holds on for dear life as his horse flies straight up into the moonlight in a thrilling scene that, let’s be honest, is why we all started watching this show. The boy and the dragon then go on a wild roller-coaster ride that is both exciting and beautifully made with CGI.

By the time Aemond lands in front of the castle, you’re rooting for him, but when Laena’s daughters confront him, you realize that he’s taken the last bit of their mother they had. Baela was supposed to inherit Vhagar, but Alicent’s boys were taught to take credit for anything and everything. When Jace and Luke get involved, these kids’ anger reaches a nuclear level.

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